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Letters week of April 9, 2009
No Sign of a Recession at This Passover Table
I recently read Stefanie Makar Weiner's opinion piece in the March 26 Exponent, titled "Passover Posts First-Quarter Losses: In Search of the Brisket Bailout," and totally disagree with her assertion that the global recession has affected the quality of Passover or the seders in this area.
In fact, our seders will be bigger this year than last, and I'm almost certain there are more kosher-for-Passover items gracing the shelves at my local supermarkets than ever before. There is no indication that our family is struggling to put matzah on the table.
But this is my main point: If we "downsize" our seder, we run the risk of neglecting one of the key elements of the event -- inviting those without a place to eat to come to our tables. This has always been an important tradition, since it gives deeper meaning to the values conveyed through the recitation of the Pesach story.
It's Necessary to Reach Out to the Community
I enjoyed the April 2 cover story "Congregants Catch Torah Fever." The pictures of the congregants showed a vibrancy that's often missing from a traditional Jewish service.
Several years ago, my cousin and I visited the African-American synagogue Beth'El for a Shabbat service.
The service was rooted in song and the beautiful voices of the Beth'El choir.
There were approximately 60 people present of all ages.
The voices of the congregants rang out, and their enthusiasm engulfed us. At the conclusion of the service, some came over to wish a good Shabbas to the only white faces in the synagogue.
We were so impressed that we thought reaching out and celebrating some events together would be beneficial to their congregants as well as ours.
Not long after, I met with the cantor of a suburban synagogue to see if a joint program was possible. Although there seemed to be some interest, nothing transpired.
Later, I met with a rabbi who was planning the synagogue's celebration of Israel's birthday, and suggested he invite Beth'El to march and celebrate with them. It didn't happen.
Perhaps your article will be the catalyst to encourage ties with diverse communities that have more reasons for joining together than either may realize.
How Akiba Students Once Celebrated the Sun
Twenty-eight years ago, the Jewish Exponent published a letter from a rabbi who requested a note telling how we in Philadelphia celebrated Birkat Hachamah (Editorial & Opinion: "Blessing the Sun Gives Us a Chance to Seize the Moment," April 2).
He said that he wanted to publish a compilation for the 2009 celebration.
Although we never heard from him again, we sent him a report that went something like this: A few Akiba Hebrew Academy parents went to the school to help students enjoy the day and its Judaic content.
After we explained the significance of the Birkat Hachamah, parents and children joined together for the appropriate blessings. We then sang every song we knew that had the word "sun" in it somewhere!
On their way back to class, the students dipped their hands into a huge carton of sunflower seeds and took as many as they could hold.
There's More to Discuss When Looking at Schools
I am responding to the various articles concerning our Jewish day schools that have appeared in recent weeks in the Jewish Exponent, both in the City & Suburb section and on the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia pages.
Frankly, I'm concerned that the paper does not go into depth when it comes to the education of our Jewish youth.
By all accounts, the percentage of school-age children who attend such schools is rather insignificant.
Thus, the paper should report on a few other things: First, the number of families that send their children elsewhere, mainly to Friends schools -- and why.
We also know that the Gratz Hebrew High School is doing a great job, and yet there's little mention of it.
And last, but far from least, we must acknowledge that the vast majority of our children still attend congregational religious schools.
Remember, the future lies there, too.
Edward S. Snyder
JWV Needs a Whole New Infusion of Volunteers
This is an open letter to veterans returning from Iraq, Afghanistan and other recent wars:
Now that you are home (thank God), we're asking you to enlist in a peacetime army -- the Jewish War Veterans.
We do many kinds of different work: assisting wounded veterans in hospitals and long-term-care facilities; as well as providing seders, religious services, monetary contributions and entertainment to veteran homes specifically oriented to Jewish residents.
The organization also intercedes and works with the U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs to assure that veteran's rights and benefits are properly administered.
The JWV also provides testimony to Congress to help clarify the needs of veterans and military personnel.
At present, the JWV is composed primarily of veterans of World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf war and the global war on terror. We are getting older and are in dire need of fresh volunteers to continue our work, and to assure that the contributions of Jewish military personnel are not ignored or disparaged.
And it's still not too late for older veterans who have never joined our organization to do so now. Too many times, I am saddened to read the obituary in the Jewish Exponent and then notice that he or she was not on our membership roles, resulting in one less tribute at their final place of rest.
To obtain more information, call Herbert O. Zemble at 215-725-6537. Information can also be found online at: www.jwv.org.
In addition, a new Veterans' Service Officer has been funded by Pennsylvania to help Jewish and all other veterans find out about their benefits. Louis Abramson, a past national commander of JWV, can be reached at 215-381-3140 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Iran's Gaining Influence in South America
Is our state department asleep at the switch?
The most dangerous state sponsor of terror, Iran -- which is on the verge of obtaining nuclear weapons -- is gaining a stronger and deeper foothold right on our doorstep in South America.
Iranian-Venezuelan ties have been strengthening for years. Now, Iran has announced that it's financing the construction of two new power plants, has loaned the country $40 million for business development, and has extended a $280 million loan for oil projects in Ecuador.
Does the U.S. government have any clue about these dangerous developments -- or even the resolve or policy to confront them? Are we investing appropriately in our own hemisphere?
The first priority of the government is to protect us -- a mission that seems to have been lost on the new administration.
Lee S. Bender
Nation Needs to Learn From Truths of the Past
George W. Bush inherited a promising budget surplus from Bill Clinton. A prudent president would have then offered a balanced budget.
Instead came the deregulation of mortgages and banks, which is a big part of our current economic problems.
Creating an unnecessary war and keeping it off the budget sheets, while offering tax cuts disproportionally to the rich, also led to the deficits we now face.
Huge no-bid contracts to former Vice President Dick Cheney's pals at Halliburton, as well as letting New Orleans drown and then not rebuild it, point to the incompetent nature of the Bush-administration years.
Suddenly, the same Republicans who backed this irresponsible activity are calling for a balanced budget. That makes no sense! Even conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks has called the Republican opposition to President Barack Obama's stimulus package "insane."
No one has all the answers. We can only try one approach, and then fine-tune it as events unfold.
You Can't Force Others to Agree on Stem Cells
I'm a Jew, and I believe in research that may save lives. I don't believe that embryos are human lives. So far, we agree (Editorial: "Ahead With Research," March 12).
But I don't believe in forcing others to support research that may be against their principles. When the government pays for research, it is using other people's money (just as it does when it pays for anything). Thus, government should be limited to just those areas where it is legitimate and necessary to use force -- i.e., police, courts and armies. Otherwise, we are living under a totalitarian government.
Private research can accomplish anything that government research can without the coercion.
View on Stem-Cell Issue Can't Go Unchallenged
As a devout Jew, I must vigorously object to the profound disrespect displayed for Judaism by letter-writer Steve Heitner ("Using Embryos for Stem-Cell Research: It's Evil!" March 26).
His gleeful endorsement of the evangelical Christian stance against embryonic stem-cell research flies in the face of both halachic and Jewish secular teachings.
According to (Orthodox) Rabbi Moshe Tendler -- a renowned authority on Jewish medical ethics, who also holds a Ph.D. in microbiology from Columbia University -- "a fertilized egg in a petri dish does not have 'humanhood.' Without implantation into the uterus, it remains a 'zygote' or pre-embryo, and is not viewed as an 'abortus' as the church views it."
Aside from support for Israel, if there is one issue that has united American Jewry across the board -- from ultra-Orthodox to Secular Humanism -- it is support for embryonic stem-cell research.
A Plan Where Everybody Comes Out a Winner
We've all been reading articles about how not-for-profits have been especially hard-hit in this recession, as donations have decreased while the demand for services has grown. Many of us would like to help, but may also be struggling.
However, there is a way you can help a local synagogue, even if you are not a member -- and it won't cost you extra money.
It's simple. You already spend money at a supermarket, go out to eat and shop at area stores.
Did you know that many area synagogues sell script, which is basically like a gift card, for use in area supermarkets? In return for selling it, the synagogue receives a percentage.
Most supermarkets give 10 percent. So if you spend $250 at the market in a month, using script, the local shul gets $25.
It's not a lot of money. But multiply that by 12 months, and the synagogue gets $300!
Some area congregations also sell gelt, which is just about the same as script, and can be used at a variety of stores and restaurants. The amount of return varies between 3 percent and 10 percent, depending upon the issuer.
So if you stop for breakfast on the way to work, why not use your gelt? Every bit helps! And use gelt as gifts. This way, everybody wins!
Glenn S. Berman
Just How Do You Let God Into Your Life?
I agree with Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman (Religion & Ethics: "Things Sacred When They Measure Up to God," March 12) that Judaism would be impossible to imagine without its sacred concepts. Hoffman says that "Jewish tradition calls things sacred if they measure up to the standards we associate with God.
I would like to add that we affect the amount of holiness in our lives. Rabbi Mendel Menachem of Kotzk, Poland -- also known as the Kotzker Rebbe -- said: "Where is God? Wherever you let Him in."
How do we let God in? We follow the mitzvot in our treatment of all people. On the High Holy Days, God does not forgive our sins against our fellow human beings until we go to these people and make amends.
In sum, the constant struggle as Jews to let the sacred into our daily interactions with other people defines our partnership with God.
Chevy Chase, Md.
A 'Jew in Space' Makes Co-Religionist Feel Proud
Thanks for the article (City & Suburb: "Spaced Out? Yeah, After All, He's an Astronaut," Feb. 26) about Jewish astronaut Garrett Reisman.
After the Mel Brooks' 1987 movie "Space Balls" appeared, the director referred to a sequel which has now come to pass: "Jews in Space."